Comparative Theatre Review
Online ISSN : 2186-5094
Print ISSN : 1347-2720
“Not an equal, but a greater payback”
Guilt and Character in the Vorgeschichte of Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus
Masahiro KITANO
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2013 Volume 12 Issue 1 Pages 119-132


In this paper, I examine the character of Oedipus’ action narrated on the stage, namely, the Vorgeschichte of the stage action. Two realms of action are considered separately: first, Corinth and Delphi, where the words of the drunk at the banquet was at issue, and second, the crossroads, where fatal meeting between Laios and his young son occurred. As for the first realm, I argue that what the drunk said was not only false, but implied a grave abuse against the assumed mother of Oedipus, Merope, and Oedipus had good intellectual and moral reason for not taking him seriously and not connecting Pythian oracle with the libel. As for the second, I argue that his story of the crossroads is full of indeterminacies which made it impossible to determine the culpability of his action. What is more, whether Oedipus was morally culpable or not is irrelevant to the tragic outcome at the crossroads as far as he followed the principle of exceeding, one of the basic virtues of the heroic tradition. However, to conclude that it is this heroic principle of exceeding that is denounced in this tragedy because it is inconsistent with the democratic principle of classical Athens is to oversimplify the matter implied in this tragedy. This principle was still felt positively for a spectator who could imagine himself to be in such a situation as a crossroads where it is not sure one can rely on any legal authority. Oedipus was, in this sense, “like us” and that is why his fall caused “pity” of the spectator.

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